If you're hitting the beach this summer, do more than collect shells in the sand, go run and exercise on the sand. Running on the sand can provide a soft surface and beautiful view, and can be as challenging or relaxed as you wish. If you are an experienced runner, you probably know by now what kind of pronation you have and how you should choose your running shoes. But the topic slightly changes when you are thinking to go running at the beach. Following the below tips will ensure that you have a positive experience.

Why you should go running on the beach


Beach running, especially on dry, loose sand, strengthens your arches, ankles and other below-the-knee muscles more than running on harder surfaces. Running on sand requires you to generate more force and work through a fuller range of motion, from your ankles to your hip flexors and arms. Several studies have found that running on sand consumes more energy than running on asphalt, burning 30% more calories. There's also much less impact force when you run on sand.

When and where to run on the beach

Running on the beachCredit: By ceiling [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIt would be best to run at low tide or within maximum two hours around the lowest point. You should stay close to the edge of the water without getting your feet wet. Some beaches have extremely low tides and allow more room to run on packed sand. A high tide leaves soft, dry sand, which is kindest on the legs, but it's also much harder to power through. Because of the added difficulty, your first beach runs should preferably be done in running shoes on the hard, wet sand next to the water, on a falling or low tide. Running on a slant can put more pressure on your knees, ankles and hips, and could cause injuries. To prevent the unevenness from affecting only one side of the body do an out-and-back run. If you feel any pain, shorten your run and stick to level surfaces.

Shoes versus barefoot

Advantages of running barefoot

Running on soft beach sand expends close to one and a half times more energy than running on the road. If you are vacationing and want to sustain some level of fitness but also want to decrease your training time, you may like the idea of soft sand beach running as an efficient calorie burning workout. Also, landing on soft sand increases the “collision” time, or the time during which the foot sinks into the sand, and therefore reduces the overall stress of pounding on the lower extremities.  The increase in collision time on soft sand means that sand has less rebound than pavement, which forces the quadriceps, hip flexors and gluteus muscles to all engage more than they do on a normal run.

Running barefoot on sand allows your feet to move through their natural range of motion, which helps to strengthen your feet and ankles. Nevertheless, as any good thing, running barefoot should come gradually otherwise you could get injured. If you absolutely want to run barefoot then start with short runs, just 15 to 20 minutes, to build strength in your feet and gradually add 5 minutes as your body adapts.

It’s also worth saying that soft sand beach running without shoes forces the smaller stabilizing muscles in the knees, ankles and feet to work harder than on a normal road run. If an athlete gradually incorporates beach running into her/his regimen, the added strength of the stabilizing muscles may help to prevent common road injuries.

Dangers of running barefoot

Barefoot running in general, sand or no sand, can lead to or worsen plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains or Achilles injuries because you don't have the support of shoes, and therefore, the muscles get stretched longer than they would on a harder surface. Although running on hard beach sand with shoes is softer on the body than running on the road with shoes, running on hard beach sand without shoes undoubtedly increases injury risk because the skeletal stress is abnormally high.

Women wearing beach running shoesCredit: By Mike Baird from Morro Bay, USA (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/3539161615/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsFurthermore, beaches tend to have a lot of shells, broken grass and other sharp objects you need to watch for. My personal recommendation would be to wear shoes when running on the beach. There aren't specific shoes designed for running on sand, so you have many options. Using your regular road running shoes is just fine but a lighter-weight trail shoe is also a good choice because of the added grip.

Also, keep in mind that, due to the fact that you are running in the sand, shoes with a tight mesh instead of an open mesh are better. A closed mesh can keep sand out of your shoes when running on the soft terrain.  And since it's sometimes unavoidable to get a little sand in, wear socks that ward off blisters. Thin, synthetic options work well. And if your sock and shoe combo still isn't abating the rub, consider a lubricant for long runs, especially long runs where your feet might get wet and sandy.

Have a pair of beach running shoes

Although there aren't specific shoes made for beach running, you're better off dedicating a pair of your running shoes for beach runs. That way, you don't have to bother trying to get all the sand out of your shoes after your runs.

When you are running on hard-pack sand without shoes, you need to change your form. This is the whole concept behind the barefoot running shoes, the lack of cushioning makes you run differently – or it should. You can run straight-legged and pound the pavement like a jackhammer if you have good cushioned shoes but run like that barefoot and you will destroy your knees in short order. Barefoot is a great choice for sand running, and the barefoot running shoes give you a barefoot feel while still protecting your feet.  

The following are some of the best shoes for running in the sand.

Vivobarefoot Men's EVO Lite Running Shoe
Amazon Price: $130.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
These shoes are better than most of the running shoes out there, but not quite the best in their category. Anyways, they are great value for money. They have 4mm or less heal-to-toe drop, are very breathable, have no arch support and work on a variety of terrains and surfaces. While these sneakers are excellent trainers, the more plastics inner material makes them not suitable for wearing at the races. If you would wear them without the insoles the ground will feel fantastic. Still, the moisture will stick more against the skin compared to soft cloth-like liner, and thus wearing training socks is a must.
Mizuno Men's Wave Inspire 9 Running Shoe
Amazon Price: $114.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
These sneakers are highly appreciated by the true runners. They are perfect for mild and moderate overpronators, offering good stability and just the right amount of support and cushion which allows a nice run with the ability for speed if desired. They give great flexibility around the ankle area with no rubbing.
The material is very breathable which depending on the weather you wear them can be a pro or a con.
Mizuno Inspires are an open toe box, snug extremely comfortable fit, drain well, light and supportive. The sole is an excellent design for a heel or mid-foot striker. They are incredibly comfortable shoes. They are reported to never cause blisters or discomfort and they can be wear in any weather, or on any surface: trail runs, road runs, through snow, torrential rain, dust, dirt, mud, everything.
Newton Running Gravity Men's Running Shoes
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
One of the best minimalist running shoes (little cushioning, very modest heel, designed for runners who are going to land on the balls of their feet rather than their heels). It's a multi-terrain shoe (Gravity's heel is a little more reinforced, compared to Motion for instance)and can lost over 500 miles. The front sole is "weighted" with lugs that naturally make the feet tend to land on the balls of the feet when you run. If you usually don't land mid-front, as you are supposed to, these sneakers will train you to run properly.
Topo Athletic Mens M-RT Athletic Shoes
Amazon Price: $100.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
Topos are highly recommended to anyone who is landing too hard on their heels. These shoes are extremely comfortable and functional with their split-toe design and anatomic shape for natural foot positioning. By leaving just the big toe out, one can get a significant improvement in stability, all the while preserving a better stride overall than traditional running shoes.
Vibram FiveFingers KMD Sport LS Shoes - Men's
Amazon Price: $109.95 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
If you have any lower back problem, then Vibrams are the solution for it: they are extremely comfortable and give the feeling of walking around everywhere barefoot without the pain of rocks and sticks stabbing in the soles of your feet. At first, it might be a chore fitting them on, getting them adjusted and learning the new 'feel'. But once you hit the street running, you will be amazed. You could like them so much that you will extend your run even in the first outing. They are suitable for anything: beginning with beach strolls, beach running, hiking, running, working, driving, etc. When deciding what number you should purchase, just get your regular number and then stretch them out a little to give you some room, if needed. You could feel them a little snug in the beginning, if you have large feet but you don't have to buy a higher number: they do stretch pretty easily.
Nike Free 5.0+ Mens Running Shoes 579959-740
Amazon Price: $100.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
These Nikes are light weight and super flexible. They are perfect for those who need support to the inside of their feet (those with flatter feet or collapsing arches). At first, they may seem a little tight (actually, a lot for some) but they will eventually expand to fit. This feel is due to extraordinary great engineering - the flywire cables system - soft yet durable cables that wrap the mid-foot and arch from underneath the foot for a glove-like, supportive fit that adapts to one's stride. So, they're tight but with lots of flexibility so the foot can do what it wants to do naturally, but the shoe gets right in there on the inside of the foot and lifts the portion of the foot that is prone to expanding.
Also they have a low-profile mid-sole which delivers a natural barefoot-like feel, with an 8mm difference between heel and forefoot height for greater cushioning while still promoting a natural stride.
If you wear these shoes you will absolutely love the tighten feeling, coming not from the sole, but from all around the shoe.
On Cloud Runner
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
These Cloudrunners are really cushiony, just like running on clouds but without the squish effect from Nike's cushion fit shoes. With non slip internal lining, High-grade EVA midsole and ultra light air-mesh upper they make up for any running routine, without offering though the performance of other shoes in their class. That being said, the feeling is great and you could really enjoy them running on the packed sand.
ZEMgear 360 Ninja Split Toe - Running Series
Amazon Price: $59.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
ZEMgear 360 Ninja Split Toe are super light, very portable, comfy, easy to slip on and off (easier than Vibram Five Fingers, especially with tabi), slightly warmer than the Vibrams, and after wearing them for a while (several weeks for heel strikers) your feet will feel great. They are suited also for people with wide feet. The bands snug the shoes to your feet (with socks), material and sole are very flexible, you get a great "road-feel".
New Balance Men's MR10v2 Minimus Running Shoe
Amazon Price: $109.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 17, 2014)
The New Balance minimalist qualities do not disappoint: low stack height, low heel-to-toe drop, very wide toe box, great ventilation, super flexible. The outsole is uniform enough to have a smooth ride on pavement and knobby enough to have a decent grip on the beach. Also its pattern is such that it does not pick up any stones or sticks. Take note though of the height and shape of the heel counter: it doesn't have a V-cut (so no wrap of Achilles from the sides) but goes straight up, which might cause a rubbing sensation at the beginning. Also, only part of the sole is Vibram: around the forefoot and one side of the heel, so if you underpronate, it's better to look for a 100% Vibram sole.

Sand workouts

Zigzag running:

After running 10 minutes on the wet, hard-packed sand, gradually accelerating from a slow jog to training pace, head to the dry, soft sand for a one-minute hard run (until your breathing gets too hard to continue – even less than one minute is acceptable). Cut back to the firm sand for 1 minute of slow recovery running. Keep these zigzag patterns going until you've done 5 to 10 one-minute spurts.  At the end, cool down with a 10-minute easy jog on wet-packed sand.

Ascends on sand-hills:

Begin the routine as for the zigzags, with 10 minutes gradual running. Then, find a tall sand hill or dune that's open to runners. Be aware that most dunes are protected by law so you should ask a lifeguard or park ranger, or look for signs that say "stay off the dunes." Run towards the top for as little as you can catch your breath. Then jog back down and keep jogging around the hill until you catch your breath again. Do 5 to 15 ascents, depending on the height of the hill. At the end, cool down with a 10-minute easy jog on wet-packed sand.

Long and tempo running:

If you decide to make long runs in the sand, don't do it in the dry, soft sand for long periods of time or you would expose yourself to injuries. Tempo runs or goal race-pace runs can also be difficult in the sand so don't expect to run your usual paces. If you are fit enough and have experience running on difficult terrains and you don't run against the wind, you can come close to your normal tempo pace on a low tide.

Other beach running tips

It’s always better to run early in the morning or late in the afternoon but at any time at the beach, sunscreen of at least SPF 15 is a must, as the sun's rays reflect off the water. Sunglasses and a hat or visor are also helpful in keeping you comfortable and focused on your run.

Running on the beach, especially on a sunny or windy day (or both), could take a toll on a already strained body, causing dehydration or other heat-related problems. So make sure you hydrate properly and have plenty of water available. Bring a bottle of water with you or make sure there are water fountains or shops close to your running track.

Barefoot beach runningCredit: By Steve Holden [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsTake advantage of the place you are at and take a dip in the cool water after you've finished. It will undoubtedly leave you refreshed and make it worth your effort (especially if you have a quick-drying run apparel).

In conclusion, striding at the beach can be a highly rewarding experience. What with sunshine cascading over you, salty wind brushing against you to refresh and challenge you, and a cadence of crashing waves splashing alongside, sand running is a powerful sensory-overloading workout. More than offering new sights and sensations, though, running on sand provides vigorous exercise and a method for strengthening your stride. It works unique muscles, boosts stamina and blasts fat- all while protecting you from injuries common to running on hard surfaces.

Beach workout tips

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